An old hardback copy of the Norton Jane Eyre, held at Birkbeck Library was in reasonably good condition for its age. A green, black and white cover invites the reader in to peruse the ‘authoritative text’. The cover boasts an angular, spiked and black towering tree, with its pointing limbs reaching out towards the viewer. That gnarled and soon-to-be-spilt symbolic species of nature stands precariously in front of an old, worn and jutting crenelated castle.
The traces study revealed an initial insight into the previous reader’s focus by the clear initial underlining on page ix of the preface – ‘the unique context from which Jane Eyre grew.’ The unknown previous doodler, presumably gathering suitable quotes for an academic project/essay, seemed to be tailing off in a direction of ‘identity’.
Following their lead, I succumbed to curiosity to find out where their thought patterns had lain next. Soon after, page 5 of chapter 1 revealed a focus on ‘I soon possessed myself’ and ‘I studied’ (with a hurried underlining scrawled mess). These first-person verb phrases revealed a focus vicariously through Jane’s actions of the previous reader’s view of Jane.
The ghost I was following then took another approach with triple side line markings next to a section on page 19: ‘How much I wished to reply fully to this question!’ – that pencil marker echoes Jane’s dilemma possibly by their own quandary. Jane seeks to reply to a question and possibly my antecedent annotater had the same issue – they also desperately needed an answer to a question! This of course, might surely be an academic or literary one, rather than one of identity. But in tackling and empathising with an iconic character, like Jane, it shapes a modern reader’s perspective on themselves, surely, when taking into account Brontë’s own arduous and admirable route into becoming a published author. I digress.
Moving on, the doodler on page 101 (an ominous number in a modern intertextual reading) then meandered into double vertical side lines, aided by a helpful perpendicular line thus drawing the reader’s eye to the line: ‘…it was an incident of no moment, no romance, no interest in a sense; yet it marked with change one single hour of a monotonous life’. The repeated negatives in an anaphoric sense effectively articulating the bleakness of the anathematized. On the same page the words ‘all passive’ are lightly underlined on the sentence: ‘I was weary of an existence all passive’.
The reader fears Jane’s passivity. Is this a major point in the essay being written? Has Jane’s ostensible passivity become the clear contributory factor into requiring her to become a subversive literary figure? Feared by contemporaneous critics such as Elizabeth Rigby: ‘the tone of the mind and thought which has overthrown authority…and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre’.
The focus on page 117 on dialogue suggests a change in approach: ‘Speak,’ he urged’ And ‘You are dumb, Miss Eyre’. The double vertical side lines focus on Rochester’s lines (and his alone) and then subsequently on page 118 – the possessive pronoun ‘his’ is underlined from the line ‘a dependant is comfortable in his dependency’ –the entire paragraph side double vertical line marked shows that even in an investigation which seems at first glance to be figured around Jane, it is Rochester’s attitude towards her and in his possession of her which seems to be read (at least by this scribbler) as the ultimately defining notion of what Jane’s identity can be defined by: in terms of his.
The ‘his’ relates to a metonymical idea of belonging and if it related to Jane should say ‘her’. Even in her dependency, Jane did not have the right to her own pronoun.
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